Wednesday, January 12

The Toilet Bowl

The title of this article, which will eventually be about the NFL playoffs, is a reference to my Pee-Wee Football days in New Philadelphia, when I played in a four-team league when I was 9-10 years old. I was on the Eagles (the other teams were the Browns, Bengals, and Oilers, who were all in the AFC North at the time) as a teammate of, for one year, FCF resident Tribe expert JHH. After the six-game regular season, the two best teams played in the Super Bowl (in the NPHS stadium, no less) and the two worst teams played in the Toilet Bowl. I think they actually called it that, in the official program. I miss the non-PC era. Hence, I've decided to apply that derisive title to this week's AFC Divisional Playoff matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, who are more than just the two worst teams in a four-team kids' league: they are the two worst teams in the Universe.

For the record, I participated in two Toilet Bowls in my two years as a New Philadelphia Eagle. Our club came into the 1989 contest sporting an ugly 0-6 mark, yet somehow managed to tie the Browns, improving our season mark to 0-6-1. We celebrated our tie like we'd won the lottery, in stark contrast to the devastated Browns. The second year, we headed in into the TB at 3-3, having handed the Oilers what would be their only loss in two years and toppling the Bengals twice, while the Browns (featuring erstwhile FCFer Doug Wright) exacted some revenge for the '89 TB by downing us twice. Behind future Ohio State star and NFL'er Cie Grant, my Eagles improved to 4-3 with our Toilet Bowl win, our third W of the season against the hapless Bengals. I remember being much less excited by this than with our tie a year before.

Also, how great was it that they put the Eagles in the league instead of the steelers, even though Pittsburgh was the other AFC Central team at the time? Sadly, the Eagles changed to the steelers the year after I left (and, of course, won the Super Bowl), but at least I've never had to wear a steeler uniform. I still have some dignity.

But back to the NFL's Toilet Bowl: Seriously? Again? What did I do to deserve this? What could I possibly have done to anger the Sporting Gods so egregiously that I have to watch another fucking ravens-steelers playoff game? Would it be so hard to have a Browns-Bengals postseason tilt one year? Or maybe a Browns-Anybodies playoff game, preferably one that we don't lose in heartbreaking fashion to our archnemeses? Just once? This is at least the third time I've had to watch my most despised enemies play in the NFL tournament, and I don't like it. At least this matchup frees up my Saturday afternoon, because I'm sure as hell not watching this garbage, considering that the NFL has yet to devise a way that both of these teams can lose this game simultaneously.

The previous two times these clubs met, I reluctantly pulled for the steelers to win. The first time was back in 2002, when I was living in Pittsburgh, and I figured a win would be good for the city's economy and general disposition. This, for me, outweighed the inevitable increase in obnoxiousness. Plus, the illegitimate origins of the ravens were fresher in my mind then, so I went out to Buffalo Blues clad in my Tim Couch #2 Browns jersey (lots of weird looks from the crowd) and backed Pittsburgh, who won handily.

The second time was two years ago, at which point I was a Cleveland resident and again halfheartedly supported the black and yellow against the purple and black and yellow and that weird Maryland logo they inexplicably sport on their uniforms. I dunno, I have a lot of steeler fan friends, I was watching the game with a guy from Pittsburgh, and my hate for Ray Lewis and his gang of thugs was enough for me to back Pittsburgh, who won again. I even gave Hanford Dixon a hard time for wearing a t-shirt supporting the ravens, but he explained to me that he was supporting former teammate (and ravens GM) Ozzie Newsome and would get to go to the Super Bowl if Baltimore won. Fair enough, considering Ozzie and Hanford are two of the three Browns I had posters of when I was little. Sorry, Hanford, you were right.

This weekend, however, I will not be supporting the steelers. Sorry, Gopo, I'm sure you know it's nothing personal. Just not anymore. They're moved far, far ahead of Baltimore in my hate rankings, and just keep finding new ways to fuel the fire: Worthlessberger's offseason shenaningans, James Harrison's moronic headhunting, their unnecessary late TD against us in the first meeting, and the continued presence of Northeast Ohio frontrunner steeler "fans," including those who had BW3's management relocate us from the seats we occupy every Thursday for trivia so they could watch their stupid game against Carolina. It's almost more annoying than when I lived there, especially without any close steeler friends here in C-Town as a buffer to remind me that some of them are indeed at times human beings. I almost wrote at the beginning of this paragraph that I wanted the ravens to win - this is technically true, but it's more like I want them to lose less than Pittsburgh. A final score of Baltimore (negative 30), Pittsburgh (negative 31) would delight me. Either way, I'm going to be a big aficionado of the AFC East the following weekend.

As for the game itself - I'll post my pick with the rest of the crew on Friday (well, except Nick, who will probably post his an hour before kickoff Saturday). But you can probably see where I'm leaning, especially with Pittsburgh giving 3.5. Go Browns.

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